Reality Check India

Railway budget reality check

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on February 27, 2008

“Cows become sick if they are not milked fully” – this was the  quote from Lalu that supposedly captures the railways’ miraculous turnaround. We are told that the turnaround is so miraculous that leading business schools like IIM-A are studying it.  This article by the ministers own “Officer on Special Duty” lavishes praise on the turnaround story. Others want to see more detail.

I must admit I have a mental block analyzing anything remotely related to Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav.  I used to think he was cute and funny in the mid-nineties. That wore off pretty quick. Not his neem toothbrush, not his pajamas, not his cow and buffalo stories. His act has worn out on me.  Yes, I am talking about his 15 year rule of Bihar, where he led tens of millions into a living hell. There have been poor administrators before him. The real problem was his reign coincided with the great economic opportunities post-liberalization. Other states took advantage to various extents, but he passed and passed. He knowingly plunged his state into lawless caste-based goondaism. To me, this reality cannot be escaped by any amount of media sponsored cuteness. It will take decades for Bihar to recover, simply because it takes time to settle blood money dues.

He still wins elections, but he uses the magic wand donated by the “Wizards from the lands of no data”.  You all know that you cant fight the magic wand from the land of no data, dont ya ? He just has to wave it and *ppooof* – all your “IIM economic capitalistic socialist communist science privatization ideas” vaporize instantly!

Now, back to the railway budget. I was watching all TV anchors frothing at the turnaround story with no concrete details. If just loading the rakes beyond capacity can result in $5B in the bank, why wasnt it done earlier ? Are the same accounting procedures being used ?

As far as the eye can see, I see no visible change in the railways in the past five years. Same filthy stations, same trains and coaches, same toilets that fertilize the land for free, same overloading, same touts and unregulated connections from stations to the cities.  No new parking lots. In fact, the automatic platform ticket vending machines at the Chennai Central have broken everytime I want to use them (dozens of times over the past two years). The IRCTC website is functional but we had it five years earlier and it was the almost the same.

To summarize : 

What used to work, still works.

What didnt, doesnt.

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20 Responses

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  1. shadows said, on February 27, 2008 at 8:05 am

    In fact, the last time I travelled in a train about 6 months ago, it was stinking and dirty.. This in an AC 2 tier coach, where a single passenger fare costs almost as high as airline fares !!

  2. Observer said, on February 28, 2008 at 5:53 am

    Railways profitable? Why not? First, it is a monopoly. And like with most other monopolies in India, it charges exorbitant prices for substandard services. As the Indian economy picked up over the last few years to grow at 9%, and with the increasing cost of road transportation, an increasing share of freight was carried by the monopoly railways. Some innovative overloading and accounting techniques to account for depreciation, and there you have it, a surplus! Guess who is paying for that surplus, the poor unfortunate Indian consumer.

    From the list below, it can be seen that India has one of the highest rail freight charges in the world, three times more expensive than the US and Canada! Twice more expensive than Japan! I thought India was a poor country.

    http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/
    bline/2006/07/13/stories/2006071304080700.htm

    At least to Lalu’s credit, he stayed out of the way of his team’s workings. Being illiterate, concepts like unit cost etc had to be explained to him in terms of cows/buffaloes/grass etc, so he could understand. Not knowing advanced statistics, he proved that if the govt gets out of the way, things improve. Time to privatize the railways, and allow multiple operators on shared tracks.

  3. Bruno said, on February 28, 2008 at 8:01 am

    //I see no visible change in the railways in the past five years.//

    Really. How can you miss this. I thought you are smart.:) 🙂 🙂 Probably you are not travelling by train, but by plane

    I will tell you few changes. Let me give you the examples with relation to Sleeper Class Only (The analogies apply to the other classes also)

    TATKAL
    1. Assume that there are 9 coaches of Sleeper Class (II) in Ananthapuri Express. SO there are 9*72 = 648 Berth

    2. Now, not all 648 guys will go from Chennai to Trivandrum. Some will alight from Tambaram or Chengalpet or Villupuram (even trichy)
    And a majority will get down at Madurai, Tirunelveli or Nagercoil

    3. They were being charged FROM the place of Journey to the Destination

    Now What happened after Tatkal
    Irrespective of where you want to go, YOU HAVE TO PAY THE FULL CHARGE… Wow !!!

    And then
    Tatkal started with 1 coach and you can book on the previous day

    Now they have made it as 1/3rd of the allotments and you can book 5 days in advance

    SO out of the 648 Berths, 216 are reserved for Tatkal (Damned Reservation again – Ah the post has become relevant to this blog)

    Now In Tatkal they are charging Rs 150 Extra (for 1/3rd of passengers)

    That means they have raised the ticket by Rs 50 FOR EVERY ONE !!!

    Further because 1/3rd of tickets are for tatkal, tickets tend to get over on the 60th day itself some 200 guys are forced to book in Tatkal and pay Rs 150 more


    Soon this tatkal will be extended to Half the tickets and charge Rs 200 added (that means your ticket goes by Rs 100)

    And my dear Reality, you say that there is no change 😦 😦

    TELESCOPING No more
    “telescoping.” The gist of the rule is this: if you’ve booked tickets on a train for travelling from point A to point B and you want to extend the travel to point C, you just need to pay the difference in fare between travel AC and AB and not the fare for BC, which could be substantially higher than the difference. Of course, this is subject to the availability of berths for travel between B and C.
    (http://enkirukkal.blogspot.com/2006/02/railways-and-rationale.html)

    And my dear Reality, you say that there is no change 😦 😦

    introduction of a “cut” in the refund at the cancellation of even waitlisted tickets.

    And my dear Reality, you say that there is no change 😦 😦

  4. Bruno said, on February 28, 2008 at 8:02 am

    The same analogies for III AC ticket also as far as Tatkal, telescoping etc are concerned

  5. san said, on February 28, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    First of all Lalu is not illiterate .. that comment shows how much you know .. may be you can say not studied in Anna University ..

    Also these data about the rates being high in india are just rates .. not reality .. ask anyone who has taken and train in those countries and they will tell you the real fare ..

    and why was something not done before .. like loading the rake ‘beyond capacity’ .. thats a foolish argument .. even you will know ..

    and whats the definition of beyond capacity??

  6. realitycheck said, on February 29, 2008 at 5:20 am

    Hey san,

    I didnt call him illiterate. In fact, I prefer an illiterate thief over a sophisticated thief any day.

    Paris to Amsterdam (500km) costs Euro 25-30 (cheapest) on the Thalys which does it in just 4 hours. This is comparable or less than an “equivalent” Shatabdi 1st class. Anyway, the issue is about freight rates.

    Beyond capacity = loading wagons more than the prescribed limit of 80 tonnes (? I need to check this) ( 20 per axle x 4 axles per wagon).

    san – which city do you live in ?

    What improvements can you tangibly feel in the rail service in the past 5 years of “pure miraculous growth” ? I would love to hear back.

  7. realitycheck said, on February 29, 2008 at 5:42 am

    Bruno,

    I prefer train to plane – atleast when the distance is less than 1000KM.

    This Tatkal scheme is a throwback to the old days. The whole idea is you pay extra to get in front of the queue. Tatkal telephone schemes, remember. Even Tatkal gas connections, if I recall correctly.

    Think about it. Why have something called Tatkal in the first place ? It is simply because the railways has been unable to address a crunching shortage in passenger capacity.

    The normal way to travel must be the current “unreserved” coach. Ideally reserving tickets well in advance must be only when you want to save money or absolutely guarantee a seat/berth.

    I recently travelled unreserved in Dadar exp (alighted at Renigunta). It was unbearable. I was standing near the entrace, so I had some fresh air. Luckily I only had to go upto Renigunta from Chennai. There has been no improvement to this category, in fact it has detiorated even further.

    FYI – this blog is not about reservation, it is about data and monitoring. 🙂

  8. Bruno said, on February 29, 2008 at 6:38 am

    Dear Reality,

    I guess you have not understood what I meant. The Tatkal in Telephones and the tatkal in Railways are vastly different

    Tatkal in Railways is 33 % and by this they have raised the cost of Each Ticket by Rs 50

    What is the fun in raising your ticket by Rs 50 and then giving a cut of Rs 10 and calling that people friendly

  9. Bruno said, on February 29, 2008 at 6:40 am

    //Think about it. Why have something called Tatkal in the first place ? It is simply because the railways has been unable to address a crunching shortage in passenger capacity.//

    I disagree. The only use with this Tatkal is that they have managed to get more money from us

    There are No ADDED Coaches with Tatkal. Only 250 tickets which were previously given for Rs 250 (from Chennai to Madurai) (rate approximate) is being given for Rs 400. and that is a hell lot of rise 🙂 🙂

  10. realitycheck said, on February 29, 2008 at 8:06 am

    >> There are No ADDED Coaches with Tatkal >>

    I didnt believe this at first, but you are absolutely right. I always thought any additions to Tatkal would not take away from the normal sleeper class.

    >> Only 250 tickets which were previously given for Rs 250 (from Chennai to Madurai) (rate approximate) is being given for Rs 400. and that is a hell lot of rise >>

    So , do I understand correctly :

    1. This Tatkal scheme is not in addition to existing sleeper, but is at the expense of the existing sleeper seats. This squeezes the people into buying more expensive Tatkal instead of normal sleeper class.

    2. Life for the unreserved passenger is going from miserable to worse. Most would be happy to pay reserved fares if they could get a seat.

    Brilliant work, Bruno.
    Someone in the media should really pick this up.

  11. Gaurav said, on February 29, 2008 at 9:05 am

    Or other way of looking may be that rail travel is subsidized , that this subsidy goes to people who can do without it, and by tatkal government is cutting its losses. I dont see any problem with that.

  12. realitycheck said, on February 29, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Gaurav,

    True, but then the figures would have to be in terms of the Tatkal price.

    The regular reserved price would be a special deal for early birds, just like concessions for students.

  13. Gaurav said, on February 29, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Time for reality check. This is Secular Socialist Sovereign Republic of India. 🙂

  14. Bruno said, on March 6, 2008 at 6:33 am

    //I didnt believe this at first, /

    😉 😉 😉 Ha Ha Ha… There lies the genius of Lalu. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    May be you were used to me give an opposite point of view (to yours) most of the time, that you missed what I was driving at

    So , do I understand correctly :

    //1. This Tatkal scheme is not in addition to existing sleeper, but is at the expense of the existing sleeper seats. This squeezes the people into buying more expensive Tatkal instead of normal sleeper class.//

    Exactly. It is from 33 % to 50 % of the [b]existing[/b] coaches. In one way this is even worse than OBC reservation (at least in OBC reservation , there was a promise of increased seats so that the general category is not affected)

    //2. Life for the unreserved passenger is going from miserable to worse. Most would be happy to pay reserved fares if they could get a seat.//

    Yeah… The average reserved ticket from Chennai to Trichi in Sleeper Class (for example) has gone up by Rs 100 (because of this scheme) and Laluji has announced a cut of Rs 6 in his people friendly buget

    //Brilliant work, Bruno.//
    Thanks for the compliment. it is the original Tatkal which is brilliant.

  15. Bruno said, on March 6, 2008 at 6:35 am

    //Or other way of looking may be that rail travel is subsidized , that this subsidy goes to people who can do without it, and by tatkal government is cutting its losses. I dont see any problem with that.//

    Dear Mr.Gaurav ….

    I fully well agree with the concept of subsidization. But what I am not able to digest is the fact that you raise my ticket by Rs 100, give me a Rs 6 cut back and then tell me that you have reduced the cost of travel. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  16. revathi said, on March 6, 2008 at 7:59 am

    “What works still works” says RC but the quality of the raiways has been compromised for quantity. I boarded a passenger train from Madurai to Quilon and was just about to settle down when I saw several rats in the coach. The passengers made a desperate attempt to close all the luggage tight and put their feet up. When asked, one official said that these days there were so many trains that soon after arrival, a train sets off again under another name and there is no time to clean the trains.
    We arrived however on time- and transported the rats successfully to Quilon and were thankful to get out.

  17. Gaurav said, on March 8, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Dear Bruno,

    Don’t blame me, I am no part of this madness, it is your government, your socialism. I am just here to subsidize fantasies of bleeding heart liberals. Enjoy my money.

  18. Naveen said, on April 14, 2008 at 5:27 am

    To all poor customers of Tatkal services

    Recently, I booked a 3rd A/c Tatkal ticket to Bangalore to Howrah, (Yeshwantpur exp.) for 2 persons
    (Dest only upto.Vijaywada).

    Total fare = 1699 * 2 = 3398 (excluding IRCTC Credit card charges) + 100

    Suddenly, one person is ill and I have to cancel the ticket partly, I had enough time 2 days to cancel the ticket, I did that.

    To my surprise, I got a mere refund of 25% on tatkal ticket, excluding Tatkal charges of 300

    ie 1699 -300 = 1399 * 25/100 = 350
    (In what way our money deducted is justified, God and IRs knows)

    I did nt understand why the Tatkal ticket is having so many blunt rules (I think it is mere way to make railways profitable)

    1) Why Ticket should be booked from Source – Destionation compulsorily
    2) Tatkal Charges are more in diff. seasons and Non refundable
    3) Why on cancellation 25% is only returned that to before 24 hrs

    I feel terribly sorry and helpless, on the part of Indian Railways squeezing the customer in need.

    What can we do when we are robbed like this?

    Poor customer of Indian Railways


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